Out here, in the… ‘deep wild’

Hi,  David and Richard

A stiff wind today, and yes, it continues to be very cold. Richard’s thermometer, limited to indicating temperatures down to -30C, wasn’t even registering today. So again, we had to keep moving. 

Describing the topography of the land as… a land so starkly flat and featureless…it remains nothing short of remarkable, really, how 165 years ago, John Rae managed to conduct his survey work in such a very cold, barren and incredibly flat expanse of the Arctic.

For us, even today, right here, right now, with all the benefits of modern technology to hand, we still struggle to derive any sense at all, as to whether we are, at any given point, standing upon solid land, a lake, or the ocean?  

Given the amount of snow that’s fallen this year, very few distinguishing features reveal themselves on which we might take and keep directional bearing. Here we are, with our GPS satellite coordinates and compass to assist in keeping us going in the right direction…and still, we continue to be fooled to the point of near bewilderment  … choosing to take a bearing on an outcrop, or rock, or other lesser feature we think is 5 kilometres in the offing, when in reality it is but a stone, lying only 500 yards away. Sometimes, the truth of it, is the other way around entirely.

How Rae and his colleagues surveyed this coastline, as they did back in 1854, is so very, very impressive to us. And more so, each day we are here. Every night or so, his party would need to build an “igloo” a job which took them, I believe, about an hour to complete. Richard and I, have the benefit of a Hilleberg expedition tent, which the two of us, usually put up in about two minutes, maybe less, depending on how hard the wind is blowing. 

We assume it likely would have been much easier for Rae to conduct his survey work in the summertime, where the distinctions between water and land would be more obvious. But to have conducted so accurate a survey, as he did, here, at this time of the Arctic year, 165 years ago— well that was, and still is, an astonishing accomplishment…nothing short of the …remarkable!

There is a lot to reflect upon, out here by ourselves. We are, but here, on a wee journey. John Rae, in contrast, was here to learn what he could while plying his trade: surveying what was then still very much an unknown, unexplored part of the Arctic.

Not only did he conduct his work with a high degree of professionalism and accuracy; he also had the humility and respect to learn from the people that lived here then— the Inuit, for whom, this was (and still is) their home.

It is here, in Nunavut (Our Land), where they are still being born, still live, still hunt, still grow their families and communities and still continue to honour their elders and ancestors, as they always have, throughout the millennia. 

The people we have met along the way, on our journey, (somewhat akin to Rae’s in that we are following his historic travels), have enriched both Richard’s and my life—enormously! We could not have met nicer people. I felt today, today in particular, that the land played a huge part in determining our day.

The world-renowned adventurer and naturalist, Jon Turk, has written often about what he refers to as the, ‘deep wild,’ a term to describe a state of body and mind that envelopes you when you spend any length of time in the wilderness. You become part of it—it becomes part of you. Today, here, I really, really felt that. Richard did too.

As people we often see ourselves somehow as being separate from nature, but the matter of it is that… we are nature. Richard and I, feel extremely honoured, privileged and lucky to have this opportunity to embark on this expedition, to gain a sense of what it is like to spend this amount of time, in this utterly amazing (Arctic) environment; not having seen a building, a car, a lamppost, or the like, for an entire month.

Our journey  has given us a renewed appreciation of Turk’s ’deep wild’ — a wild that can be found in so many places: from the peaks to the Poles, and everywhere between…even in your back yard, or a local park. There is wilderness everywhere, and it is imperative that we all find it, appreciate it, understand it, and respect it. It is for our own, (and collective) mental and physical wellbeing, that we all really need to take the time, more time, to develop a greater relationship with the natural world. 

And yes, while technology may be great, well yes, it is great; we all use it every day, even on a journey like this. But, for all of its many, many benefits, technology paints but a very thin line in this, the wild world. Here, it is nature that is the determinant in how easily, and how far we will travel each day. It has taken these last few weeks out here, just ourselves amidst it all, for that to really sink in, to immerse ourselves and appreciate the natural world just that little bit more. 

Tomorrow, is a big day for the Arctic Return project. Tomorrow, it is our goal, our hope and our ambition to reach Point de la Guiche. Both of us are (very) tired, but we’re extremely excited and happy that we will be calling in tomorrow night from the very place, where John Rae, solved one of the greatest puzzles of his time — his discovery of the last missing link to a navigable Northwest Passage.

Tomorrow, we will again, draw attention to this important day in history and Rae’s achievements— a day that will be filled with significance too, for Richard and I, and everyone associated with Arctic Return.